Gareth Bale departed the Santiago Bernabéu with the match ball after becoming only the second British player ever to score a hat-trick in La Liga. The world's most expensive footballer scored three and provided a wonderful assist for Karim Benzema, keeping up an extraordinary start to his career in Spain. He has now scored eight goals and provided six assists in his last seven games.
Only Gary Lineker had scored three in a Spanish league match before and Bale equalled that with the "perfect hat-trick": header, right foot, left foot. As he departed the stadium just before 11pm, Bale was beaming. Asked where the ball was, he smiled: "In the bag – everybody has signed it." The third goal came in the last minute and after the full-time whistle he left the pitch to a standing ovation, applauding the Real Madrid fans from the centre circle, the ball in his hands.
The Welshman also said that he felt he was now nearing 100% fitness, having overcome a minor thigh injury which had seen his home debut delayed. He has scored nine and provided six assists overall. In the absence of the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, who watched the game from a glass fronted private box wedged between the south and west stands in the corner of the stadium, he took responsibility here.
"It was a massive blow not having Cristiano playing. For me, he is the world's best player and we had to do a job without him," Bale said. "[But] I didn't feel any pressure to be honest. I just want to go out there and enjoy my football and thankfully I scored a hat-trick."
Bale nodded in the first goal from six yards after the Valladolid goalkeeper Diego Mariño failed to hold a shot from Ángel Di María after half an hour. He then floated a wonderfully weighted 25-yard diagonal pass for Benzema to head in five minutes later. He scored his second when Marcelo's cross came off Carlos Peña and fell to Bale near the penalty spot .
A minute from time Bale started and finished the move for his third. He drove with determination through the middle of the pitch, covering 60 yards. He spread the ball wide to Marcelo on the left and sprinted into the area, calling for the ball in front of him. The Brazilian's low cross was perfectly played and Bale completed his hat-trick.
"I think as soon as I scored the second I was trying to get the third," Bale admitted. "I was trying my hardest to get into positions and thankfully the move did work out. It was a great ball by Marcelo to put it on a plate for me. My team mates have helped me to settle in straight away. All the players, the coaching staff, everybody, has been excellent to me. They have made me feel very welcome and given me a lot of confidence. I feel part of the team, every game that we play I'm getting more used to it, and I'm enjoying my football. I think that showed tonight."
Bale even admitted he could speak some Spanish, before adding with a smile: "but I'm not going to yet." And with that he strode out of the Santiago Bernabéu, carrying a white bag. Inside was the match ball.